They say the old ones are the best.
The St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi is certainly one of the longest-running hotels on the UAE capital's most pristine island, having opened its doors in 2011; it also marked the first steps from the brand into the Middle East.
However, with eight others now operating in the region, The National checked in to find out if the original still holds onto its crown.
Turning left into the St Regis resort, travellers first wind along a palm tree-lined road, giving the sense of a tropical getaway. Valet parking is available right outside the hotel, and staff are quick to collect both luggage and car and whisk us inside. Check-in is swift and efficient, and we’re en route to our fourth-floor suite in no time, informed by the receptionist that our butler will be along to introduce himself.
Sure enough, 10 minutes later we meet Mustafa who briefs us on the suite, the resort and the tasks that he can help with, such as unpacking, pressing laundry and escorting us to spa and dinner appointments.
As mentioned, the hotel was one of the first to open on Saadiyat Island. It was one of only two resorts on Happiness Island (which the name translates to in Arabic). Today, it's surrounded by a cluster of luxury hotels, residential buildings, a world-class golf course and a cluster of cultural institutions such as Louvre Abu Dhabi, New York University Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, which is expected to open in 2026.
Inside the St Regis compound, travellers will see leafy residential villas, a yoga studio, hair salon, supermarket and a handful of restaurants and bars.
The safety measures
Our Al Hosn green pass is checked upon entry, and staff are all sporting face masks as per Abu Dhabi’s Covid-19 rules.
We’re staying in a beautiful Astor suite which, our butler tells us, has one of the best views of the ocean in the resort. The capacious suite spans a separate living and dining area, guest toilet, bedroom and a very spacious bathroom and has an elegant neutral colour palette, which has clearly been inspired by the nearby beach with mother of pearl tiling, seashell shaped lamps and gold and turquoise fabrics.
It has two balconies, both of which share the same view. If we are being pedantic, we'll call it a resort view rather than an ocean view, as the family pool is right in front of us with the Arabian Gulf only visible in the distance. Either way, it's a lovely vista.
A favourite with families, there’s plenty to keep everyone busy. There’s the sandcastle club where little ones can take part in daily activities and enjoy their own pool. There's also a sprawling family pool, which has a separate outdoor lap pool, and an adults-only pool.
The Iridium spa is a little haven of tranquillity with separate male and female relaxation areas, each with a whirlpool, sauna and steam room. An entirely dreamy massage hits the spot, sending us back to our suite in a relaxing daze.
The Athletic Club is open for those who want to work out during their stay. It has an indoor lap pool — ideal for the summer months — and there are tennis and squash courts. And, that’s before we get to the nine kilometres of private coastline.
All-day restaurant Olea is a beautifully decorated venue and the breakfast spread is quite something, serving quiches, pastries, sandwiches, bagels, several types of home-made honey, even more varieties of granola, exotic fruits, an Arabic station, eggs, waffles and more. It’s also open daily until 1pm, meaning you can indulge in a very leisurely brunch.
We have dinner at Mazi, one of just a handful of Greek eateries in Abu Dhabi. Its interior mirrors the colours of golden sunsets and turquoise sea views, and the menu is a sharing concept, with dishes brought to the table when ready.
We start with the tzatziki (Dh55) which comes with a smattering of bright green herb concentrate on top of creamy white sauce that’s served with thick toasted bread slices.
Tuna tartare (Dh85) is served with pine nuts and is fresh and delicate, and a standout crab salad (Dh110) hits all the right notes with mouthfuls of slightly sweet crabmeat in a creamy sauce in each bite.
The lobster orzo pasta (Dh165) is disappointing, both in flavour and in its risotto-like texture. The grilled sea bass (Dh250) fares much better and is expertly served with a simple lemon sauce to keep the focus on the fresh cut of fish.
We’re too full for dessert, but if you have space there's a delightful sounding loukoumades with lavender honey on the menu.
St Regis is known for its hospitality and we’re not disappointed. The butlers assigned to our room are charming and helpfully escort us to a sabering appointment — where we are treated to a re-enactment of the hotel’s ritual of opening a bottle with a sword.
They also ensure our room is continuously well-stocked with fruit and water. Ashok from The Manhattan Bar is a fountain of knowledge, regaling us with stories of the St Regis brand and hotel traditions, while waiting staff are friendly and our spa therapist appropriately gentle-mannered.
Things falter a little at checkout, where staff are a little curt, but it doesn’t dampen the rest of our experience.
Highs and lows
With some of Abu Dhabi’s best views overlooking the Arabian Gulf, this is also the place to spot dolphins and baby turtles at the right time of the year, which is a definite draw. And, while we didn't think we were the kind of travellers to want a butler — it's hard not to appreciate the effort the staff go to to make sure everything is just right.
A clear downside is the sheer amount of plastic bottles used throughout the resort. As a hotel that’s set so close to the ocean, we’d expect a bit more concern for the environment but plastic bottles are everywhere — in rooms, served by the pool and beach as well as being offered to guests in the spa.
The insider tip
If you're visiting without children, make a beeline to the adult pool. Accessible with your room key, it is the spot for couples with private cabanas, in water sunbeds and separate Jacuzzis, plus a speedy bar service accessible at the touch of a button on your parasol. Pair this with sundowners or late-night live music at Buddha-Bar Beach Abu Dhabi and it's the perfect itinerary for a grown-up weekend getaway.
Having made itself at home on Saadiyat Island more than a decade ago, the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi remains just as strong a contender for holidaymakers and day trippers to the capital, perfect for families looking to unwind or couples that want to spoil themselves.
The bottom line
Prices start at Dh1,118 ($304) including taxes. Check-in is at 3pm, and checkout is by noon. www.mariott.com
This review was conducted at the invitation of the hotel during the global coronavirus pandemic. It reflects hotel standards during this time, services may change in the future.